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Anthropomorphic animal characters have been part of our culture for decades: Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Sonic the Hedgehog, and a solid majority of cartoon character everywhere. We've grown up with these characters, grown to love them like our own friends, and yet many of us neglect to hold the same love and respect for a community that is, more or less, one and the same: the furries.
A furry is, in a nutshell, anyone who is enthusiastic about anthropomorphic animals, or animals that have human-like characteristics. They sometimes dress up like these animal characters, usually some kind of persona or identity they have created for themselves, but not always. Unfortunately, like any niche community of people, furries have been overgeneralized, judged, and even mocked by the general public.
"A furry is someone who celebrates the idea of anthropomorphic animals," Vix, one of the most famous furries on the internet as well as one of my childhood best friends, says. If you're familiar with the community, you may call her Vix, or maybe Rika, or maybe you know her as someone else.
"My 'real name' isn't a name I use anymore," she says. "I have been going by Rika since ninth grade. Mainly because I associate my real name with a time when I was weaker, still figuring myself out, or without personality. That was like my 'blank slate' name, if you will."
She goes on to explain how her different identities came to be, but that they are all a part of her in some way.
"Vix is the me now," she says. "It is also what my fans tend to call me, while my friends call me Rika. The name and character Rika is also associated with how I want to see myself."
In her case, Rika is the character that she designed for herself at a young age. It is the image that she now proudly parades around in, whether it be dressing up at a furry convention or drawing her character in a wide array of beautiful art that she sells online.
Being a furry is her sole source of income. "I do freelance art for furries. Basically, I spend all day drawing animals and it's honestly the best. Well, when sales are good, anyway," she says.
Vix rose to fame about four years ago via a viral video on her YouTube channel (started in 2006), with the video hitting over 12 million views and launching her into a whirlwind of success. The video was a fan film inspired by the video game Five Nights at Freddy's in which she dressed up as one of the game's popular anthropomorphic animal characters, Foxy.
She confirms that she regularly gets recognized while "suiting" (the term used when a furry dresses up as their furry persona), to the point where she often has to wear other people's fursuits just to wander around conventions "on my own time and in my own space." She's also recognized outside of the fursuit "basically as often as I'm recognized in suit, leaving me to still have to wear other suits to have time for myself at cons."
So, how does it feel to be inside of the suit?
"Hot. Very hot. But also, a lot of fun!" she says. "There is a sort of anonymity to it, but it doesn't feel like a disguise. My suits are me and when I wear them I am still myself, even if I act as a character."
While dressing up as cute fluffy animals and running around conventions with your friends does sound like a lot of fun, it can come across as a strange lifestyle choice to some. There are a variety of responses to the furry lifestyle, both positive and negative, even amongst Vix's family and friends.
"They think it's weird," she says, casually. "I mean, I do, too. But they are happy I can express and be involved in something that I'm passionate about. Some family members also think it's really cool! Non-furry friends and family members have also requested my suit at birthday parties and weddings."
She is fortunate to have a group of friends and family who supports her, but many other furries aren't as lucky. Rumors have spread, judgments have been made, and the whole community is often associated with an undeserving stigma.
"[Being a furry is] weird," she says. "It's really weird and people just don't know how to handle it. And yeah, it is weird, but in my opinion, it's better to embrace weird and have fun with it rather than demonize it and ridicule people who are just having fun and not hurting anyone. Furry and fursuiting has brought smiles to many faces, and what harm is that? People refuse to see past their limited view of the world and think everyone must be as boring as they are. Hard truth, but that's what it is."
Sure, anyone who hasn't been exposed to the furry community probably would think it's strange. Dressing up as an anthropomorphic animal is probably not something most people have considered, but why not? Is it any different from people who cosplay, or dressing up in costume for Halloween?
"Open your mind," she says to anyone who judges the furry community. "Stop seeing the world the way you want to see it, and consider that people are different than you. Furry isn't for everyone, but that doesn't mean that furries deserve to be put down for something they enjoy. If you find out someone you know is a furry, instead of making fun of them or cutting them out of your life, accept the fact that they found a hobby they like and support them and move on. It's really a lot easier than you'd think."
Being a furry has "helped me come out of my shell, overcome social fears, practice and get better at art, and introduced me to some extremely wonderful people who I am glad to call my friends," she says.